Valerie Buck rode for the best barns and galloped some of the greatest racehorses.
But she knew just as well that even the ones who never hit it big were worth something.
Intrinsic, undeniable value ran through all of their bloodlines, and it infuriated her to hear of a poor-performing Thoroughbred, derided as a throwaway.
“These are valuable animals!” she insists.
So, in 2009, Buck decided to start a new career, finding retired racehorses their second calling.
“By the time I left racing, I was so burnt out,” she says. “In 2009, a filly fell on me on the blacktop, and I suffered some major injuries. At this point, I decided to pull the plug on galloping horses” and seek a new direction in life.
Her first guidepost toward that new career appeared one day as she struggled to load a horse on a trailer.
After fighting a losing battle, she phoned a friend who happened to be well versed in Natural Horsemanship techniques, to come help her. Her friend did much more than that; he taught her the power of a method that can turn the most uncooperative mount into a willing partner.
Her horse eventually loaded easily, and Buck enrolled in a course in Parelli Natural Horsemanship, a well-respected teaching approach that focuses on training the person to communicate on a horse’s level.
“The experience completely changed my life and my perspective,” she says. “It reignited my passion for being around horses again.”
A woman who was so exhausted from the horse business that she barely enjoyed her own animals when she was home—sometimes she trudged to the barn to feed and water her horses without even a glance—is now on fire with a passion to teach others to enjoy their Thoroughbreds.
This spring, Buck is launching a certified nonprofit to retrain Thoroughbreds from a facility at Scotch Hill Farm in Washington County, New York.
Working with board members Kristina Dallas, DVM, Dean Westcott, a businessman and newly named treasurer, and Katrina Clay, the nonprofit’s secretary, the four will run nonprofit charity ACTT Naturally, whose acronym stands for Aftercare Continued Thoroughbred Training.
Buck plans to combine her years of equine experience with the Natural Horsemanship methods in which she has become adept, to bring out the best in ex-racehorses. She envisions holding clinics for OTTB owners and riders and offering boarding and training as well.
Although she is just getting started, Buck is eager to prove the worthiness of racehorses who others have forsaken.
“I feel I have the tools to help the horses and I know there’s a need for it,” she says. “My mission isn’t to make a hunter/jumper or a dressage horse, it’s to get a horse mentally balanced, and in the right frame of mind—without tie-downs or harsh bits — for their next career.”